I was saddened last week when I learned that longtime character actor Ed Asner passed away.
Most people of a certain age remember Asner as Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” where he holds sway over a zany group of characters at the fictional WJM television station in Minneapolis.
After the Mary Tyler Moore series closed in 1977, Asner was cast in the lead role of the series “Lou Grant.”
“Lou Grant” premiered in September 1977 and ran on CBS until September 1982. In the show, Asner played a city editor of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune daily newspaper. Unlike “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” this series was an hour-long drama focused on the newspaper industry as it stood then.
I became acquainted with Asner through the “Lou Grant” show. While I remembered “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” it was on “Lou Grant” that I gained my first impression of the newspaper industry.
Looking back at the old episodes, they can seem — at times — to be quaint artifacts of a long-gone age of newspapers. For one, the technology is different now, as is the prominence of the newspaper industry.
A great many of us can remember when a newspaper like the fictional Los Angeles Tribune was one of the key pillars of information dissemination. Back when “Lou Grant” was on TV, it was newspapers and the three big networks that provided our view of the world.
While the show was fictional, it did deal with real life, serious issues on a regular basis.
For me, Asner’s depiction of Lou Grant was the embodiment of what a “real” editor should be. Tough but fair and always trying to keep an eye out for his employees.
The series also showed the problems and challenges reporters faced as they worked on stories, a reality I think the vast majority of the general public is unaware of.
The production of a daily or weekly newspaper doesn’t happen in a vacuum and is often punctuated with unforeseen problems that seem to crop up when the story subject is extra important and deadline looms.
I am no television critic but I always liked Asner as an actor. In a sense, his depiction of Lou Grant helped me — years later — to choose journalism as a career.
Occasionally, I will call up one of the old “Lou Grant” episodes online and watch it, as a reminder of what our industry once was and to watch a very good actor play a good role in one of the gems of back-in-the-day television.
I, for one, will miss him.